Symptoms and risks

Information and advice about coronavirus symptoms and what to do to reduce the risk of infection.

June, COVID-19 survivor

I didn’t think I had COVID-19. I didn’t feel unwell, I felt like I was breathing normally. Because I was so badly infected, they had to get me on the ventilator fairly quickly. I was in the ICU for 32 days.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

The symptoms to watch out for are:

  • fever 
  • chills or sweats 
  • cough 
  • sore throat 
  • shortness of breath 
  • runny nose 
  • loss or change in sense of smell or taste. 

Some people may also experience headache, muscle soreness, stuffy nose, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.

If you have any of these symptoms, however mild, you should seek advice and get tested. To get further advice, call the 24-hour Coronavirus Hotline 1800 675 398 or your doctor.

What if I feel tired or fatigued?

Feeling tired or fatigued is common with a lot of illnesses, including COVID-19. If you are feeling tired and have any of the symptoms, you should promptly see your doctor and get tested for COVID-19.

Who is most at risk of getting COVID-19?

Anybody can get COVID-19 if they have contact with a person who has the virus. We know that some people are at higher risk of getting COVID-19 because of where they have been and where they live.

People who have had close contact with someone who has COVID-19 are at high risk of becoming infected. This includes people who live in group settings with other people and share common rooms (such as aged care homes or boarding houses).

If you are a close contact, you must quarantine for 14 days. You can reduce your risk of spreading virus by protecting yourself and other people.

Who is most at risk of becoming very sick from COVID-19?

While most people will only have mild symptoms, anybody can become very sick with COVID-19. Anybody who is sick can also pass on COVID-19 to others, who can become very sick and potentially die.

We know that certain people are more likely to become very sick with COVID-19.

Older people

  • Older people are more likely to get very sick with COVID-19 because immune systems become less effective with age.

People with pre-existing medical conditions

  • Having an underlying illness makes people more likely to become very sick with COVID-19 including those with diabetes, chronic lung disease, kidney failure and people with low or suppressed immune systems.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

If any of these apply to you, it is important that you continue to look after yourself and take any regular medications. Keep following advice and ask for help from your doctor, nurse or healthcare worker.

The following pages provide more information on COVID-19 and other medical conditions: 

Our health services page has more information on who is in an at-risk group.

People living with HIV

There is no evidence so far to suggest that people living with HIV, who are on effective anti-retroviral therapies with undetectable viral loads, are at increased risk of getting COVID-19 or developing severe disease. However, as HIV infection can result in suppression of the immune system and other comorbidities, people living with HIV are a higher risk group than the general population. 

Read the 

for more information.

What if I’m a smoker?

People who smoke are generally at higher risk of respiratory tract infections, like lung and chest infections. There is also evidence to suggest that e-cigarette use (vaping) leads to a higher risk of respiratory tract infections. Quitting smoking has never been more important, as COVID-19 causes respiratory illness, and in some cases breathing difficulties and pneumonia.

You can find more information on smoking or ‘vaping’ and COVID-19 in this factsheet

I am feeling unwell, what should I do?

If you have serious symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, call 000 and ask for an ambulance and tell them if you also have a fever or a cough, sore throat or respiratory illness. 

If you begin to feel unwell, and have a fever or a cough, sore throat, shortness of breath or respiratory illness you should get tested for COVID-19.

Contact the Coronavirus Hotline 1800 675 398 or call your doctor and mention your symptoms and risk factors. They will determine if you need to be tested for COVID-19.

Who can be tested for COVID-19?

Anyone who has any of the below symptoms, however mild, should get tested. For advice, call the 24-hour Coronavirus Hotline 1800 675 398 or your doctor.

  • fever
  • Chills or sweats
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • shortness of breath
  • runny nose 
  • loss or change in sense of smell or taste. 

Some people may also experience headache, muscle soreness, stuffy nose, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. 

Testing is free for everyone regardless of visa status, residency or Medicare coverage.

From time-to-time people may get tested due to high-risk industry surveillance or outbreaks, even if they do not have any symptoms. 

Where can I get tested for coronavirus COVID-19?

Visit the Getting tested page for step-by-step advice on getting tested for COVID-19 and the Where to get tested page for locations of testing sites.

What if there are no testing sites listed in my area?

If there are no testing sites listed near you, contact your doctor or local community health service or the 24-hour Coronavirus Hotline on 1800 675 398  for assistance. Make sure you phone ahead and discuss your symptoms before you visit in person. 

How can I protect myself and others?

  • Follow the restrictions and the COVIDSafe rules to stay safe.
  • Stay healthy with good nutrition, sleep and regular exercise.
  • Avoid excessive use of alcohol.
  • Consider quitting if you’re a smoker.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow.
  • Get tested if you feel unwell.
  • Keep a distance of at least 1.5 metres between yourself and others.
  • Get vaccinated for flu (influenza). This will help reduce the strain on the healthcare system as it deals with COVID-19. Vaccines are now available from your doctor and pharmacy. 
  • Continue to clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces regularly, such as phones, keyboards, door handles, light switches and bench tops.

How does COVID-19 spread?

As COVID-19 is a new virus, new research is emerging from scientists regularly. Health authorities around the world believe the virus is spread from close contact with an infected person, mostly through face-to-face interactions; between members of the same household or people who work together closely.  

COVID-19 is spread by infected people when they cough or sneeze. People may also pick up COVID-19 from surfaces contaminated by a person with the virus. This information may change as more research emerges and we learn more about COVID-19.

The best way to protect yourself is to keep at least 1.5 metres apart, and practise good personal hygiene such as regular hand washing and coughing or sneezing into your elbow or a tissue.  

For more information about the transmission of COVID-19 visit the Facts about COVID-19 page.

How do you define 'close contact'?

A close contact is someone who has been identified by Department of Health contact tracers as having spent time with someone who has COVID-19.

There is a high chance that people who have been close to someone with COVID-19 may get the virus and spread it to other people.

Close contact can happen in many ways. For example: 

  • living in the same household or household-like setting (for example, a boarding school or hostel) 
  • direct contact with the body fluids or laboratory specimens of a confirmed case  
  • being in the same room or office, car or lift.

Does COVID-19 survive on surfaces?

Studies suggest that COVID-19 may live on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. This may vary under different conditions such as the type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment. 

If you think a surface may be infected, clean it with a common household disinfectant. 

Clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose. 

What is the difference between COVID-19 and the flu?

COVID-19 and influenza (flu) are different viruses. COVID-19 causes a more severe disease than seasonal influenza. Globally, two to four per cent of reported COVID-19 cases have died. By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than one per cent of those infected. For more information visit the Facts about COVID-19 page.

Who is required to quarantine and what does it involve?

There are certain circumstances that require someone to quarantine. This includes returning from international travel, or when you are waiting on a test result for COVID-19 or you are a close contact of someone who has a confirmed case of the virus.

When quarantining you must go straight to your home home or to your accommodation and stay there, except to seek medical care or in an emergency (including if you are experiencing family violence). More information is available on who must quarantine and what to do if you are a close contact.

If you are returning to Victoria from overseas, please visit Mandatory quarantine for returned overseas travellers for more specific information about what is required.

Information is available on the support for when you isolate or quarantine and to support your mental health.

Who is required to isolate and what does it involve?

You must isolate when you have tested positive for COVID-19. This means you are a confirmed case. You must go straight home and stay at home except to seek medical care or in an emergency (including if you are experiencing family violence). More information is available on what to do if you have COVID-19.

Reviewed 24 May 2021

Coronavirus Victoria

24/7 Coronavirus Hotline

If you suspect you may have COVID-19 call the dedicated hotline – open 24 hours, 7 days.

Please keep Triple Zero (000) for emergencies only.

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